Not this year

Lawrence teachers won’t get what they don’t ask for, but their opening salary proposal isn’t in the district’s financial ballpark.

April 14, 2011


There’s nothing more important to the quality of education in the Lawrence public schools than the classroom teachers who have contact with students every day.

Considering the important role they play, most Lawrence teachers probably should be paid more than they are. After several years of relatively small increases in their salary and fringe benefit packages, most teachers probably deserve the $1,500 salary boost being sought by negotiators for the Lawrence Education Association.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that the timing of the teachers’ request is a little off. The financial challenges facing the Lawrence school district make this a difficult year to give teacher salaries a sizable bump.

Negotiators for the teachers know they won’t get what they don’t ask for so you can’t blame them for trying. The question is whether it makes sense for the district to tap into the funds teachers have identified to cover the cost of salary and benefit increases.

The contingency fund that teachers have targeted now totals about $6.8 million, but the district already is proposing taking $750,000 from that fund to help fill the budget hole it expects for next year. Among other things, that money will help preserve the number of teachers hired by the district.

The teachers’ proposed salary increase, without considering benefits, extra duty pay and other factors, would cost the district about $1.4 million. The district probably could take that much from its contingency fund this year, but how about next year and the year after that? If the district could reasonably expect to be able to replenish that contingency fund next year, it might make sense to borrow from it. However, current economic and political factors make such a turnaround an iffy proposition.

It probably doesn’t make the teachers feel any better, but many, many people in the private sector are sharing their pain. Over the last five years, combined salary and benefit packages for Lawrence teachers have risen between 1.5 percent and 4 percent. That’s not a lot, but it’s more of a raise than many private sector workers have seen. Private businesses have had to pare employees, reduce benefits and lower salaries. Those staff reductions have forced many remaining employees to take on additional duties without additional pay.

With expected state funding cuts, the district doesn’t have a lot of flexibility. Unless the board is willing to take the questionable course of borrowing heavily from reserve funds, the only way to find more money for teacher salaries is to take that money from other places. After several years of budget cuts, it’s hard to find cuts that wouldn’t have an impact on classroom instruction.

Although it continues to face tough salary competition from some neighboring districts, the Lawrence district has a history of providing solid salary increases for teachers when funding allows. The district should continue to do what it can, but this isn’t the year for a substantial, if any, boost in the salary and benefits package.


Paul R Getto 7 years, 2 months ago

Dolph: You think the schools have been slapped so far? Wait until they gain some real momentum in Topeka with Muscular Sam and his minions. This was just the warm-up act. Next year they will double down and try for even more cuts, if they can get away with it. People need to ask their legislators how 'small' government can get before we start to scream. They should also talk to them over the summer when the impact if these plans starts to sink in.

KU_cynic 7 years, 2 months ago

Great point, Moderate. Teachers asking for more pay without offering flexibility in terms of how to deliver isn't going to go anywhere.

However, I observe that USD 497 is so "top down" in organizational structure that front-line teachers really aren't used to thinking "outside the box"; central administrators just don't give them much opportunity for that.

What we need, in my opinion, is a staged process:

  1. More teacher empowerment to be more creative and accountable.
  2. Then a cutting back on central administration.
  3. Then performance-based pay raises for teachers.

If teachers aren't willing to take step #1, we won't go anywhere.

kugrad 7 years, 2 months ago

"Over the last five years, combined salary and benefit packages for Lawrence teachers have risen between 1.5 percent and 4 percent. That’s not a lot, but it’s more of a raise than many private sector workers have seen. " This is not true. Those percentages are the amount of $ added to the cost of implementing the salary scale. Of the 650ish teachers in the district, about 450 of them are at the top of the scale and have gotten around $200 increase in the last 5 years. That is a fraction of one percent and not an annual raise. Benefits have cost the district more, but employee costs have risen dramatically. Co-pay cost for Dr. visits and for prescription co-pays have risen a lot. Private-sector insurance is almost always better than what teacher get. Yes, I know not all private sector workers get insurance, but those with equivalent education typically do. Those with equivalent work experience to the 450 teachers at the top of the salary scale typically see raises more than a fraction of a percent, even in these times, and typically have far superior benefits.

tomatogrower 7 years, 2 months ago

I could get behind performance based raises for teachers if there were some clear guidelines and it wouldn't turn into a buddy system. A few years back, I worked as a para in the schools, which meant I spent time in many different class rooms. There were good and bad teachers, but some of the most popular teachers with the kids and the administration were some of the worse teachers. They were coaches. Now not all coaches were bad teachers, but there was one who did little in his class besides talk sports. The kids who were into sports loved talking with him, and the kids who weren't into sports did homework from other classes. But this was an American History class! He had more respect from the administration and the students than the hard working science teacher down the hall who made the kids work and was actually teaching. In an ideal world she would have gotten a raise, and he would get a cut in pay, but we all know that won't happen. The principal continued to give this guy glowing evaluations. Most of the kids will eventually come to appreciate the science teacher more as they mature, but some administrations haven't matured yet, and they would be in charge of merit pay.

youngjayhawk 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm in favor of teachers receiving yearly raises and opposed to merit-based pay for the reasons stated above. More than anything, I wish the district admin & SB would look seriously at discontinuing Wednesday collaboration - reinstating the full day and lenghtening school days to shorten the year. By doing those two things, the savings could provide the teachers with what they are asking for and students would benefit educationally. I'm saddened by the waste in this district.

weeslicket 7 years, 2 months ago

just my opinion: hard to tell what is really going on here, yet. both sides have stated their views. they are negotiating, after all. no surprises here, really.

what the facts are about acutal dollars in the kitty; and what they CAN be used for; and what the board INTENDS these funds to be used for; are very much mysterious, at this point.

this is another wait and see what the facts really are. in my opinion.

George Lippencott 7 years, 2 months ago

Love it

Just about every other professional in the country is on some form of merit pay. Teachers on the other hand demand professional pay but want to be exempt from professional evaluations. Which is it guys/gals??

kugrad 7 years, 2 months ago

Teachers are not exempt from professional evaluations, nor are they advocating such. They have a collectively bargained agreement and they want the agreement honored. Schools are not businesses, nor are they reasonably comparable.

George Lippencott 7 years, 2 months ago

Understand your point but disagree. Schools are essentially businesses. You work for us. A collectively bargained agreement can go both ways. Your salary is not tied to your evaluation; I think it should be. If you try to strike, I would throw you in jail. If you don't like it, find another job (since you don't want the responsibilities of being a professional).

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